Hiking with your dog - Winter sports practice
Winter brings its share of adventures when we go on a hike. Whether you have a small dog, a hairless Mexican dog or a husky, there are a multitude of possibilities to make your walks pleasant and safe.
In this article, we will discuss different notions in order to allow you to move, regardless of Mother Nature's whims!
By the way, let's talk about temperature! In Quebec, as in all other provinces that experience winter and snow, the temperature in the mountains can vary a lot. That being said, even in summer the temperature in the mountains can change quickly, but it is often less dramatic. One thing is certain, not all dogs can walk outside in freezing temperatures without the need for clothing to prevent hypothermia and frostbite. It’s all about genetics, age and general physical condition.
At AniMush, we are often asked from what temperature to provide accessories for the dog and the answer always remains: it depends ...
Here are the factors that will influence our choice:
Weather forecast for the region
The condition of the trails
Difficulty level of the hike
Your dog's abilities
However, one thing is certain, prevention is better than cure. When in doubt, it is best to review your planning for your day and make sure you are equipped accordingly.
Dog coat, boots and carrying bag
Many people, having a small dog or a so-called chilly dog, postpone their exit or leave doggie at home because of the few degrees below zero. However, there are plenty of possibilities if you want to allow your dog to follow you on your adventures.
The coat and the boots are essential. There are even sets that cover the stomach and paws for those who tend to collect snowballs in their fur. In all cases, recommend clothing that is suitable for your dog's body shape and that is easy to put on.
If this is your dog's first experience with clothes, take some time to desensitize him to handling and wearing a coat. The same goes for ankle boots. Recommend boots that are easy to put on, such as the Canadian brand Muttluks, which offer several sizes and colors ranging from size XXS to XXL. Certainly, there are several other models depending on taste and budget. However, this is the preferred model for hiking, as they are warmer than slippers for harness sports, the cost is reasonable and they install like a charm. With a dog who wants to have his paws manipulated, of course!
How do you measure the ankle boots if you buy online? Here is an interesting video to help you choose the right size for your boots:
Your dog doesn't need boots, but would you like to learn more about winter paw care? Here is another of our articles on the subject:
For small dogs, for whom walking on snowy trails is a great difficulty, there are transport bags in which you can put your dog. Again, you will certainly understand that it is best to experiment with it a bit and make sure the dog is comfortable in his clothes before going on a hike. The carry bag is also ideal, winter or summer, when you would like to cover several kilometers knowing that your mini will not be able to keep pace. Finally, having a mini has its advantages. Something you couldn't do with a large dog who decides to take a long break in the middle of your run.
The basic equipment for the practice of winter hiking remains the same:
harness suitable for practicing harnessed sports, a bungee line and a double traction belt.
Wondering what kind of equipment we are talking about? We invite you to read our article in order to discover the basics of hiking HERE
Harness and coat
If your dog must wear a coat, make sure you put it over the harness. The canicross harness must be well adjusted to allow the dog to maximize his effort and prevent him from losing stability when towing. Avoid taking a larger harness to put it over the coat, as it may inconvenience your dog by moving during your walk.
Some coats are suitable for practicing harness sports, more precisely when the dog must run and be free of his movements so as not to interfere with his running motion. However, it is not necessary to choose a jacket specially designed for racing. As long as the coat allows your dog to tow properly while keeping him warm, that's fine.
Boots, snowshoes or crampons
Wearing snowshoes or crampons is mandatory on the trails in several regional parks. However, snowshoes are safer than metal crampons in the event of a fall for your dog, or if you inadvertently step on one of its paws. Otherwise, a good pair of hiking boots can do the trick on snow-cleared or heavily trafficked trails when permitted.
Regarding the choice of snowshoes, everything will depend on your type of hike: off-piste, icy surfaces with a lot of climbs and steep descents ... The investment in a good pair of snowshoes is worth it if you become a fan of canirandonnée in the mountains. It will make all the difference in making your ride safer and more enjoyable if the surface you are walking on changes a lot. Even more so if you have a dog that is able to tow you to help you on the climbs, as you will gain stability.
Canirandonnée is a complete harnessed dog sport just like agility or any other sport. We often tend to underestimate the importance of training the dog in basic instructions in order to make outings enjoyable and safe. Of course, if you have a small dog, his pulling force is less important if he decides to run after a squirrel.
or a hare when you are about to descend an icy slope. However, with a medium to large dog, the experience can be very unpleasant and dangerous.
That being said, take the time to train your dog according to your type of hike. Here are some examples of the commands we teach our dogs:
Pulling motion: learn to pull properly in a good straight line, the harness well positioned. Essential to limit the risk of injury.
Right and left directives
Slow down and stop
Work on distractions (especially for overtaking or very busy trails)
Go down slowly: we especially like this command at AniMush with our 70 lb dogs very motivated by the traction!
Choice of your route
Your first steps
Although it is a simple hike at first glance, if you are not used to hiking in the mountains in winter, it is best to choose your route accordingly. Start with a trail that you have walked on with your dog in another season or choose an easy route. It is more encouraging to increase the difficulty level than the other way around.
Second, make sure there is at least one person who knows where you are and what time you are supposed to be back. Even if it’s a short 5km trip, if your cell phone doesn’t pick up the airwaves and you have an accident, someone needs to know where you are! It seems extreme at first glance, but spraining an ankle 2km walking in the snow with a dog to manage, on a path with little traffic, it can take a long time.
Pack a snack for you and your dog as well as water. Snow is not enough to keep your dog hydrated, besides containing potential bacteria.
In winter, multi-layering is the order of the day. Better to remove than to run out!
Those who used to mountaineering like more difficult and longer runs. They are not afraid to drive miles and miles to find the most remote places. However, it is important to consider your dog's abilities and your ability to come back to your automobile if something goes wrong. Otherwise, make sure you have a makeshift hut on your route to take a break or to take refuge in in the event of a sudden change in temperature. Access to cellular waves or a CB (talk about) is also a great option when going on a great adventure. Certainly a person must know where you are and at what time you should be back.
For longer walks, provide an extra snack for you and your dog, water, suitable clothing and a small first aid kit.
Emergency dog harness
There is an emergency dog harness that you can easily carry in your backpack. Whether you are far from your starting point or not, this harness fits easily into your backpack. Take our word for it, we would have greatly appreciated having this harness on us the day one of our bitches tore a ligament in one knee. Luckily we were about 1.5km from our vehicle, but who knows.
There is no such thing as zero risk when we practice an outdoor activity. You just have to be aware of the risks and be prepared for this eventuality without it preventing you from enjoying all the beauties that nature has to offer. Not to mention all the happiness you will share with your dog when you step on the ground with him. Memories, fresh air and guaranteed happiness!
On your marks, get set, MUSH!